Difference Between Folic Acid And Folate-Find Out
Folic acid and Folate- what is the difference, you may ask! The names are used interchangeably but the fact is that folate and folic acid are two very different forms of vitamin B9. You should know the differences between the two as they don’t affect your health the same way.
Let us find out the difference between folate and folic acid.
Vitamin B9 occurs naturally as folate and is an essential nutrient. It has several important functions to do in the body. For instance, it has a crucial role to play in cell growth and the formation of DNA.
Lower levels of folate are linked with an increased risk of many health conditions which include:
- High levels of homocysteine
High levels of homocysteine are linked with an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
- Birth defects
Low levels of folate lead to birth abnormalities.
- Cancer risk
The risk of cancer increases when folate levels are low.
This is why vitamin B9 supplementation is quite common. In the US, Canada and Chile, it is mandatory to fortify food with this vitamin.
But the problem is that fortified foods and supplements have folic acid and not folate.
What is folate?
The naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 is folate. It is derived from the word ‘folium’ (Latin) meaning leaf. Actually, you will find folate in leafy vegetables. Folate is a generic name for a group of related compounds having similar nutritional properties.
The active form of vitamin B9 is 5-MTHF. In the digestive system, most of the folate gets converted into 5-MTHF before entering the bloodstream.
What is folic acid?
The synthetic form of vitamin B9 is called folic acid. It is the one used in supplements and added to processed foods such as flour and breakfast cereals.
For several years, it was thought that folic acid is absorbed much better than the natural folate. But a diet with folate rich foods is known to be almost equally effective.
Unlike folate, the most of the folic acid doesn’t get converted into 5-NTHF (the active form) in the digestive system. It instead needs to be converted in the liver or other body tissues. Moreover, the process is inefficient and slow. After consuming a folic acid supplement, the body takes time to convert it into the active form of 5-MTHF. Even a small dose (200-400 mcg) per day, may not get metabolized completely till the next dose is consumed. The problem is even worse with fortified foods. This leads to detection of un-metabolized folic acid in people’s bloodstreams. It is a reason to worry because un-metabolized folic acid in high levels is linked to a lot of health problems.
How harmful is un-metabolized folic acid?
The adverse effects of un-metabolized folic acid are as follows:
- Increased cancer risk
- Vitamin B12 deficiency (undetected)
Although un-metabolized folic acid is a matter of concern for human health, further studies are needed to confirm the same.
The healthiest sources of vitamin B9
The best way to get vitamin B9 is to get it from whole foods. Folate rich foods are avocados, Brussels sprouts and leafy greens like spinach and lettuce.
For pregnant women, supplements are an easy way of getting vitamin B9 and it is best to choose those that don’t contain folic acid. There are some supplements that contain 5-MTHF. Studies show that they are even better than folic acid.
The bottom line
So, by now you know how different folate and folic acid are from each other. Folate is present naturally in foods and folic acid is synthetic. The body can’t handle folic acid well as it has trouble in converting it into vitamin B9’s active form. The building up of un-metabolized folic acid has negative effects on health. However, there are a lot of folic acids when it comes to supplements.
Hope this post was informative!
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